2018-19 Season Preview: Reggie Jackson

A preview of the upcoming season for Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson.

It's time for individual season previews - It may be a bit early but I want to make sure I have time to get through everyone, and since the Pistons are very likely set in their roster there isn't much reason to wait.

Follow along with any and all relevant stats on Basketball-Reference.

About last year

Jackson got off to a very good start, looking to bounce back from a terrible season the year before. However, at the end of December in a game against the Knicks where he had 13 assists in just 21 minutes, Jackson came down awkwardly on his ankle and severely sprained it. He would not return until the end of March and the Pistons largely fell apart without him. In the end, it marked the second straight season where Jackson's, and by extension, the Pistons season was totally derailed by injury problems.

When he was playing, however, Jackson was playing at a pretty high level. When he got hurt, Jackson was playing with the ball in his hands less than before in the Pistons new motion-heavy offense, but he was scoring at a career-best efficiency and avoiding turnovers. He even was mostly decent on defense. When Jackson returned at the end of the season things were fairly ugly. He couldn't get shots to fall and generally struggled for the 12 games.

All in all, it still sits as an overall positive comeback season from Jackson who showed that he was willing and able to change his play style from the totally ball-dominant style to a more pure point guard while still being successful, but the injury makes it mostly a moral victory.

What to expect next year

Role

Jackson is the starting point guard, there is not and should not be any real question about that. He is unlikely to play heavy minutes, even before his knee issues he barely cracked 30 per game, but will be the starter and closer at the position. Not much drama or question here.

Offensively

The biggest question for Jackson is also one of the bigger ones for the Pistons. Despite looking very good prior to his injury, he clearly had not fully regained the same explosiveness that he previously had and played fewer minutes. This is not a huge surprise, supposedly Jackson spent a majority of the previous offseason nursing his knees back to health which means less basketball and conditioning. As such, it is not unreasonable to suggest that Jackson was not fully in game-shape or as sharp as he has been in the past.

That said, after two straight years of being a diminished scorer, this season is pretty much the last chance to have much hope for Jackson to return to top form. Jackson was able to return from his ankle injury and, as far as we know, never had any issues with his knees. As such, this should theoretically be a chance for him to have a normal and full offseason of workouts and practices without real limits. Whatever Jackson looks like this season is likely what he will be going forward until age kicks in.

With all that in mind, the potential for Jackson to return to the explosive and dynamic scorer remains one of the big questions for the Pistons heading into this season. Two years ago Jackson was a borderline all-star who could take over games with his scoring, a return to that form would give the Pistons three players of legitimate all-star caliber. In the end, though, the only way for us to know is to just wait and see how he looks.

The good news is that even if he doesn't return to full form, Jackson is capable of still being a very good player and can fill a similar role. No matter what, Jackson will be the captain of the offense and spend a lot of his time running pick and rolls with Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin. Even if he isn't ever going to return to blazing to the rim for easy layups, Jackson has a deep bag of floaters, runners, and hooks to be hugely effective in the lane. Combine that with his size and vision to find lob passes to rollers or kick-outs to open shooters and Jackson remains a premier pick and roll threat. Even last season Jackson ranked in the 83rd percentile as a scorer out of the pick and roll, and 81st percentile when including passes. Regaining his explosiveness would make a big difference for the overall potency, but the reality is that Jackson will likely be an effective pick and roll ball-handler for as long as he can walk.

When he isn't in the pick and roll, the hope is that he is able to somewhat replicate his pre-injury form from last year in the offense. It isn't clear exactly what sort of an offense Casey will implement in Detroit, he generally preferred simple isolation and pick and roll heavy offenses in Toronto but has said the right stuff about motion this offseason. Either way, whether as part of a grand motion offense like last year, or simply the plays where Blake Griffin is the lead ball-handler, (which will be regular) Jackson will have to can enough spot-up looks to keep defenses honest, Jackson has never been and will probably never be, a very good cutter or offensive rebounder, but last season he did show real improvement as an off-ball screener. Given that he should spend a significant amount of time playing with one or both of Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard, Jackson should see plenty of time as a screener and will have to replicate his improvement from last year. It is also worth noting that Jackson, despite being a 32% career three-point shooter, has shot 34.3% as a Piston with a lot of those being tough pull-up looks. Per Synergy, he has ranked between good to excellent as a spot up shooter in all three of his full seasons with the Pistons so while he will never be a sniper he can still be very effective as an off-ball shooter.

The place where his overall fitness and form is a difference maker will be in his simple ability to go and get buckets. Once again, Jackson will be able to run a good pick and roll as long as he can walk, but there were not really any moments last year where he totally took over the game with a flurry of drives to the rim to finish over and through traffic. Jackson dropped to the 43rd percentile as an isolation scorer last year, after being much better the previous two years. The potential to have two guys who are high-powered bucket getters could be the thing that could push the Pistons into true contention.

In the end, the hope is that Jackson is able to regain his former explosiveness while taking with him the lessons he learned while he had lost it. If he can do that he will be a borderline all-star level player and a near perfect fit for the roster. If he doesn't he will still be a very good player, but the Pistons would likely have to lean so heavily on Blake Griffin in many situations that it would put a clear ceiling on the team. Either way, Jackson will run a ton of pick and rolls, shoot open threes when Griffin runs the offense, and be asked to go get tough buckets.

Defense

This end of the floor is much more straightforward. Despite the previously mentioned lack of explosiveness, Jackson probably was having his best defensive season ever prior to his ankle injury and even looked ok when he returned. He will never be a great defender, he just doesn't have the speed for it, but when he is focused and trying his combination of length and strength can make him a real deterrent on the floor. He can credibly switch onto shooting guards and even some bigger wings and when he has too he can get up with the trees for rebounds. Perhaps his best defensive contribution remains as a post-defender, as he seems to take it as a personal insult whenever a larger player attempts to post him up. Jackson is stubborn and cocky and is one of the most stout guard defenders in the Post there is.

Overall the hope is that Jackson replicates last season's success on defense. If he plays hard most of the time he can be a plus on the defensive end. He will have trouble against top scorers one on one, but his long arms crowd passing lanes and help him contest jump shots off the ball and his strength allows him to give a tough time to guys even in isolation. It is also worth noting that anything less than last seasons defensive effort would be a huge disappointment. It was always suspected that if Jackson could just put some effort into it he could be a decent defender, but last season proved it. As such that effort should now be required.

Intangibles

Based on both his on-court play and things that you heard by people around him, Jackson seemed to truthfully grow in maturity last season. After such a hellish season before he was ready to play the right way on both ends of the court, he will always be overly confident in himself which will sometimes get him into trouble, but I'd rather have an overconfident player than an under-confident one.

Assuming his attitude and effort improvement from last year carries over, Jackson's fit with a new Pistons featuring Blake Griffin shouldn't be difficult. Griffin takes more ball-handling duties than Tobias Harris did and in general, the ways they operate is very different, but the end result isn't that different. Jackson seemed to have no issues with letting Tobias run the show on offense with regularity last year, so it shouldn't be an issue with Griffin. Especially given how much more skilled Griffin is as a passer, Jackson should end up touching the ball about as much as last year even if it is in some different situations.

As such, the bigger issue will likely be him and Griffin simply learning when to co-exist while making the most of each other and also still allowing Drummond to continue to stretch his skills as a passer and offensive hub in ways that are not terrible fading jump hooks. Once again, I don't think this will be an issue as far as guys complaining about touches. Jackson visibly matured on this last year, Griffin has always been a pass-happy and unselfish offensive player, and Stan Van Gundy (who was never quick to compliment his players) said that Drummond has never once complained about not getting enough shots. The trouble will simply be learning to make it work at the highest level they can. It will be a challenge, but in the end, the pieces fit well enough on paper and all three guys are very high-IQ players so it should work out even if it takes a bit.

Biggest Question

Really, it is if he can avoid the injury bug, but that is too simple. The larger picture is probably if he can get back to being an explosive, high volume scorer. Theoretically, he wouldn't even have to get back to the same explosive player, but somehow or another if he can be a legitimate high-volume scorer that would be a huge change for the Pistons. Other than health, Reggie Jackson getting back to being a high-powered scorer and bucket getter would give them a real shot at true contention.

Best case scenario

Jackson is able to fuse the explosiveness of two years ago with the maturity he learned over the last two years to take his place among the league's many elite point guards. He scores 20 points per game at career-best inefficiencies, avoids turnovers, and shoots 36% from deep and tidy marks on spot up looks. He does this while maintaining good defensive effort. Jackson's revitalization doesn't reach the mainstream in time for him to win his first all-star selection but he wins most improved player at the end of the year after being an integral piece in a surprise run by the Pistons to be the annual sacrifice to the Warriors in the Finals. Jackson finishes the year scoring 20 points, dishing 6 assists, and grabbing 3 rebounds per game with a true shooting percentage of 55%. He also plays in 70 games.

Worst case scenario

Jackson is never getting that explosiveness back which caps his overall production to being a mid-teens scorer with 5-6 assists. He puts up fine numbers, 14.5 points, 4.5 assists, and 3 rebounds per game on a true shooting percentage of 53%, but it is just that: fine. The Pistons have a decent year, but too many games see Blake Griffin doing too much heavy lifting while people wonder why they don't let Jackson take over for a bit. The Pistons make the playoffs but lose in the first round, Jackson completes a nice turnaround from a couple of years ago but will clearly never return to being the player that the Pistons traded for once upon a time.

What about the injuries?

With Jackson, I'm actually going to go out on a limb (with fingers crossed) that people are more worried than they need to be. The knee issues could come back but he had managed fine with them before he got to the Pistons and never had issues with it last year. He missed time last season because of a freak accident that could happen to anyone. Since breaking into the rotation full-time his second year Jackson played 70, 80, 77, 79, 52, and 45 games. It is the last two years were any real issues come up and last year was, once again, a freak thing. Perhaps Jackson's knees will never allow him to be the explosive scorer of a couple years ago and he clearly isn't a man of steel, but I would actually guess he plays plenty of games this season. In the end, though, two straight seasons for the Pistons being destroyed by Jackson injuries have a way of increasing worry around such things, toss in Blake Griffin's injury history (which is much scarier than Jackson's) and Pistons fans have reason to be worried. My official and totally arbitrary number for both of them will be 130. If the Pistons get 130 games out of Jackson and Griffin combined then they will be in good shape, below that and trouble will be brewing.

So in conclusion...

Wink knowingly at your friends if

- At some point, this year "Reggie-Fest: Portland" gets a sequel.

- Jackson is playing solid defense.

- Everyone else is surprised that Jackson is suddenly shooting 38% from deep when he gets to shoot more spot-up looks.

Run for the hills if

- He still isn't regularly getting to, or finishing at the hoop.

- Jackson's defensive effort regresses from last year.

- Jackson starts limping in pain for any reason, ever.

Opportunities for me to look stupid

- Jackson plays in 77 games this season.

- Jackson scores at least 18 points per game on career-best efficiency.

- Jackson scores 40 points on three different occasions.

- 19/5/3.

Those predictions are a bit generous Joe

I've been a believer in Jackson from the start, and have ridden for him through some very tough times. I am fully willing to admit that if he can't get back into form this year, it is pretty much hopeless that he ever will. As such, this is my last chance to be all that optimistic about him without being such a homer that its embarrassing. As such, I will sink with this ship if I have to, it is entirely possible that this year is the year that the S.S. RJax goes down for good, but I will stay on to the bitter end.

What do you think? Can he find a happy coexistence with Blake Griffin? Can he hit enough three-point shots? Can he regain his explosiveness?

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